I recently had the opportunity to be a guest on the Dick Morris Show on NewsMax. The theme of the show was the Dumbing Down of Education in America. The following was a synopsis of my comments, my fundamental point being that though there are many aspects to “dumbing down,” they are all a function of the same underlying social driver, invasive progressivism.
Dumbing down education is just a facet of the bigger picture of the culture war in America, a war fought over two words: equality and equity. As applied to American education, the conservative concept equality is as interpreted from the Declaration of Independence, that all have a reasonable opportunity to achieve a good education. There is no guarantee of results, the expectation is that through a basic foundation created by government each individual has the same equal prospect to apply his or her talents and dedication to becoming educated.
To the contrary the definition of equity can be divined from statements and actions of today’s progressive movement which has deeply ingrained itself into the education establishment. That definition is that no matter a person’s circumstances or abilities, its government’s imperative is to guarantee that all achieve the same outcomes. In other words, America’s education system is only fair when those rising above or falling below the median of outcomes are, by government action, minimized. The real-world problem with this definition is that all people are different and in order to achieve such a collective result, the median of outcomes, the bar if you will, is always under pressure to be pressed lower.
Since students come from different socio-economic backgrounds and have different natural abilities there will always be a disparity between them. Progressives see that as a characteristic of an unfair culture that government must by any means collectively correct; Conservatives see it as a challenge that the individual student must overcome with only a foundation provided by government and the support of the family.
In the progressive worldview it is not fair that categories of students defined by race, ethnicity, family income, etc. achieve outcomes better than others, so to them it must be the goal of society to ensure that deviation from the median is not an option. They implement this belief by dumbing down expectations to the lowest common denominator for all students, they lower the bar.
Remember “It takes a Village.” To a progressive the “Village” is government, and all members of the village expect equal outcomes, in effect setting a common bar that all are guaranteed but that none should exceed. To a Conservative that belief is folly, trusting instead that government’s role should be strictly limited and believing in a modified motto “It takes a family.”
As can be seen, there is a huge void between progressive and conservative thinking.
We must always strive to improve educational outcomes for all, but we must not penalize those who are able to rise above by forcing them to conform to a system designed to lower standards instead of raising expectations. And we must appreciate that the only path to raising outcomes is to set higher expectation and to encourage students to reach for them. Our nation’s future relies not on averaging to a mediocre education accomplishment level for the majority of our kids, it relies on bringing as many as possible to a high education attainment. In order to sustain our democracy, we need to set our standards high and bring students up, not set them low so that all are artificially supported.
Exactly what form does dumbing down education take?
There are any number of examples of how the progressive movement has applied its definition to American education.
1) In order to apply to all of society we are slowly lowering the expectations bar so that there is little to no deviation from the median. This is illustrated by the elimination of the use of ACT/SAT for college admissions, lower achievement standards, using social promotion, elimination of Advanced Placement testing and classes, elimination of standardized testing, and on and on. The education establishment always has a good excuse to eliminate these, but the bottom line is we are lowering the bar for the vast majority.
2) Through our history we have delegated academic, financial, and management authority to local school boards. Over time we have seen the empowerment of politically powerful teachers’ unions assume these roles. The vested interest of union leadership is to assure that the unions at least appear to exert a positive influence on the education of children. It is to their benefit that standards are lowered so that all results look good. No one will say this, but it becomes obvious.
3) We emphasize student participation instead of achievement. We downplay excellence as being unfair, even racially motivated. Though participation is a positive, we have over-emphasized it in lieu of goal setting and achievement.
4) We create political excuses for poor performance. Math is racist; proficiency in English is frowned upon and certain words are cancelled; history must be purged to meet today’s standards; we have allowed ideology to become part of curricula.
5) We downplay accountability, even though such actions only benefit adults to the detriment of children. There is only one way to assure that schools, superintendents, principles, and teachers are up to the task and that is through a defined accountability process. I would even go so far as a public accountability system for school board members.
6) Parents too often ignore what is happening in school, assuming instead that everything is just fine. Our society has changed, more families have no parents in the home. As a result, perhaps they have become more trusting of what their children are being taught. Though not an unexpected outgrowth of our extant society, it opens the door for the politicization and downgrading of what children learn.
7) Driven by powerful unions, we fail to allow broad based parental choice as to which schools they want their children to attend or even which will be funded. This eliminates competition, thereby destroying any semblance of a demand for high success. By having limited parental choice, the success of individual schools is downplayed, since by lowering the bar parents think that their children are doing just fine.
8) In our world of open borders, in school districts, especially urban districts, where there are large numbers of non-English speaking immigrants, English speaking children are held back as teachers’ have to lower the bar in the classroom in order for the non-English speakers keep up.
There is one more aspect to dumbing down American education being brought to us by the Progressive movement. Who has not seen on college campuses, and seeping down into high school and lower, another facet of societal change taking the form of equity over equality? The “Woke Movement” is a delusion that destroys logic, ambition, free exchange of ideas, high standards for learning, and many other things. Under this monstrous philosophy free thinking and a free exchange of ideas are sacrificed on the altar of political orthodoxy. It is with great irony that a number of liberal European governments are trying to protect their own countries by building barriers to the entry of “Woke”. They sense the danger, even as we blindly sacrifice our freedoms to insanity.
Lowering the bar has one goal, government dependency. Though the generational impacts of the culture war on education are yet to be determined, large swaths of our young people seem not to have realized many of the basic principles that made previous generations so successful. Because our international competitors do not care about our civil culture war, the result of unilateral dumbing down is that we will continue to see a loss of American prestige and competitiveness in international affairs, business, science, and industry.
We have done no favors for our kids by allowing them to be brainwashed by the extreme progressive concept of “fairness.” After all, life is not fair. Instead of woke cultural warriors, we need hard working, committed students, students who expect to succeed because they earned it. We need an education establishment committed to traditional education, not to political feel-good policies guaranteed to create a dependent generation, one that will be overcome by their peers around the world.
Allowing the continued slow creep of progressive folly into our system of education will accelerate the loss of our competitive edge and bring about a more dangerous world and a lower standard of living in the future. If that is acceptable to the American electorate, then we deserve what we get.